Category Archives: Blog


Last week I didn’t have time to comment on Powers of X #6, so I’ll go through that one first, but keeping the two separate.

The title comes from the first scene. It opens with Xavier figuring out an original use for Cerebro: send unsolicited advertisement about the new mutant nation right into the brains of everyone on the planet. That’s quite effective for propaganda.

The message itself is about stuff we already know. He says that mutant scientists produced some important new drugs made exclusively for humans (as if that doesn’t sound suspicious on its own, people these days don’t even trust vaccines, imagine having to use a “magical” drug that only mutants can produced with undisclosed formulas and tests). And that these drugs won’t be gifts, but will be used as leverage to force human nations to officially recognize Krakoa, along with a period of amnesty so that every mutant can go join the new community. The moral motivation for this holds up somewhat, as Xavier explains that mutants have been subjected to human bias, and so there’s no way to establish who’s rightly guilty or not, and this whole thing will instead be handled by the mutant nation itself with its own laws, from now on.

The “mystery for mystery’s sake” from last issue is revealed here right away. We see almost the full council. The only missing spot is whoever is going to sit with the white queen and black king. This remains unknown in House of X #6, so part of future plots. A mystery for future mystery’s sake, as once again we don’t get to see how’s that’s relevant or what are the consequences.

What then follows is Sabretooth’s “trial”, so we get to witness exactly how this mutant justice is going to be dealt with. Apparently with a lot of unjustified cruelty. The banter during this trial is quite superficial and inconclusive, but it’s understandable. Hickman does what he can with the little space he has, so he uses the various characters to establish some general concepts.

Without wasting time on that, what’s more surprising is the ominous angle. Sabretooth isn’t even allowed to properly defend himself. First Emma and then Jean reduce him to a drooling baby. There’s no agency, and with no agency no responsibility. When they let him speak again it’s as if he’s completely unaware of what happened. As if he was replaced by an actor. He cannot even grasp the kind of power around himself. The result is that it all feels like a facade, a stage. An example being made, to the reader and to the council of mutants. The final sentence he gets is horrifying. An eternity of stasis but while fully aware. Which is exactly the compete removal of agency. A cruelty without any justification because they could have simply put him to sleep. It’s viciously cruel. And deliberately made so by Hickman.

…And it all ends in a giant rave party, just to highlight the contrast.

A home.

A nation.

A whole lot of empty rhetoric, hiding the dirt under the carpet, away from the eyes. The way of human nations, I guess.

We thrive on symbols and hypocrisy, the mutants have learned well.

This issue stays on rails without any surprising twists, but that’s fine.

A few more strands of plot are being tied together, more or less following their natural development, so this time we see the domino doing its thing and nothing more.

X-Zero: is a dialogue between Xavier and Forge. It mostly goes nowhere since it leads to a convoluted explanation that amounts to “it’s magic”. Essentially the scene’s purpose is to tell us that this new version of Cerebro that can store the mind & soul of all mutants was built by Forge. Who explains that such device would have two basic requirements: infinite power, and infinite data space (storage). Both of which have been already solved by Xavier through magic. Infinite power is an antimatter engine that was found nearby, and infinite data is some “Shi’Ar logical diamonds” that they also happen to already have.

I suppose Hickman didn’t invent anything here and just fished stuff out of the expansive Marvel universe, since it’s certainly not scarce of fancy tools. So the explanations is fairly bland, but it follows the “canon”, more or less. The idea is precisely coherent with all we’ve seen: it would be silly to not use all this power and resources lying about. A smart man (Xavier) would just do that.

This time we also get a couple of cases of “mystery for mystery’s sake”. Or, mystery without origin and consequence. The first is a mention in text that Xavier has already “reset” twice his mental state to a previous version. The reason is unknown, the effect is unknown.

X-Ten: is the recruitment of the White Queen. We already know all of this, so we just get to see it happen. The only tiny spark of interest is the second case of mystery for mystery’s sake. The mutandom has now a (temporary) government based on a oligarchy. Twelve in total. But we only have names for four of those. They are split in groups of three for each “season”. The group made by Xavier and Magneto then has a “dark” spot, and the same for White Queen + Black King. Whose hidden spot was something explicitly demanded by Emma Frost, and deliberately not revealed to the reader to build that mystery for mystery’s sake.

There’s even a completely pointless diagram to demand the reader be curious about this.

There’s also another scene for this section. This time Xavier visits Namor, but Namor doesn’t feel it’s the time to join the happy fun times, yet. This should be a teaser for later.

X-1000: a jump right to the end of the timeline. No one hundred year war this time. We get to see what I expected to see. The info-dump we get, about the situation with the Phalanx, is built a bit like a cliffhanger (again), but it was just a straightforward outcome. These futuristic humans tried to build some machinic alter-egos so that the Phalanx would be more hungry to absorb these “decoys”, while ignoring the organic forms and so keeping them alive. So this was their gamble to survive the amicable absorption. But turns out that this process of absorption also requires a lot of energy, to be performed, hence the Phalanx will consume the organic forms as well to use them as fuel.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

It was a dumb plan.

The more interesting part is the text infodumps that might read like the hermetic principle “as above so below”, but that isn’t so much sophisticate here.

We are simply being told that there are more hierarchies past the Phalanx, and they continue exactly as before. They repeat endlessly like fractals, without any surprise or higher purpose. Hickman’s idea is that eventually a mind gets so dense it opens a black hole, disrupting space and time. But these black holes also get interlinked a build bigger societies, and they operate just the same of cells or living organisms, competing for food and dominance. The scale changes, but the behavior repeats.

So even the X-1000 is just about “humans” being stuck somewhere within this bottomless and topless process of “eat or be eaten”.

The concept is cute, but so what?

First a couple of notes about the previous issue. I was too annoyed by Sinister to read carefully, but there were a few things. The two pages of text about the “rumors” could be more or less easily decoded with some effort, and they seem to contain some foreshadowing, including links to the demonic war with Apocalypse that is shown in the flashback scene a few pages after. That I think will play a role since now we have a quite significant gap between the current timeline and the one with Nimrod 100 years in the future, when we’re been told only ten thousand mutants survived, of which only eight were left in the solar system. So it doesn’t look like Xavier’s plan worked splendidly.

The other aspect easy to miss by reading quickly is that Cypher was being shown touching some leaves and flowers, at Krakoa and behind Xavier’s back, and those turning into “machine”, like a sort of virus in the way that appears to be familiar since it comes from Phalanx/Warlock. I only have one problem with this scene: “behind Xavier’s back” seems disingenuous and pointless. Firstly because this is the “omniscient” Xavier that knows multiple realities, as it is after he “touched” Moira. And then it’s Xavier himself that announces he will leave Cypher on the island for a year, to study the language. So what is that Cypher is doing, right there, that he couldn’t have done any other time? He has no need of secrecy when he’s going to spend a year alone on the island. Whatever Cypher can do should be well within Xavier’s knowledge. So, if Hickman is coherent, this is more something to show the reader, exclusively, and maybe hint that what we see might not even be Cypher’s own intention, and just the arm triggering something. Or it might not even mean anything and it’s just a way for Cypher to connect with the island and further this theme of biologic/machinic hybrid. Or maybe this is the seed that will lead to the eventual collapse of Krakoa, or a contributing factor.

House of X #5 was one again marked in red. The only previous issue marked red was House of X #2, with Moira’s big reveal, so it was expected this issue would be significant… and it was not. Or at least not much.

I was expecting a whole lot of Sinister in this one, instead we only see a couple of loose ends being tied, but no big revelation. This apparently is not the same reaction you might see on the internet, so what’s the deal? The deal is that Xavier invented resurrection, but all the pivotal scenes were already been shown. If Moira’s lives were without a doubt an unpredictable twist, Xavier cultivating mutants as plants in his basement was not only easy to guess, but actually already SHOWN. Not only that, but we also got infos about the consequences, and we already know that Xavier went a step further to also start hybridizing and creating new mutants/mutant powers (if that wasn’t Sinister exclusively, some of those notes are ambiguous, including Xavier’s jedi trick on Sinister). We didn’t quite know it was full blown resurrection, but it’s still a natural extension of what we saw to this point.

The effect is lost on me also because, as I wrote already about the previous issues, even Moira’s power is a sort of resurrection that diminishes all those scenes of tragedy. The badness of tragedy implies permanence, and with multiple realities the feeling of that permanence becomes extremely diluted. Now we just dig a deeper hole, and Xavier’s tears, last issue, look even more silly. It was even WORSE than what I wrote, nothing at all was lost, the permanence of death didn’t even stick for a whole timeline, everyone in the squad is back and refreshed within 48 hours. A flu lasts longer than that.

But Hickman has thought about everything. So here’s the motivation behind Xavier’s fake tears:

He gives answer to fake tears… with rhetoric. I guess it makes sense.

And then it gets worse, because Xavier starts talking of SACRIFICES, and gifts, and giving. Sacrificing what exactly? They went on a suicide mission, achieved their objectives, killed a bunch of other hapless bystanders in the process, bystanders that obviously don’t get the benefit of resurrection a few hours later… but no, it’s Cyclops and his squad who made the “sacrifice”. The rest is pushed off screen, conveniently unseen.

What a bunch of fucking nationalists, egoists and hypocrites. That’s why this mutant resurrection isn’t simply a “process”, but a rite. It acquires symbolic, sacred heft. Transcendent. The “weeping with joy” is the proof of unwavering belief, of the loss of doubt: the sign of madness.

I appreciate the whole thing is CREEPY. But looking at the internet, and seeing actual readers cheering along with Storm, makes me doubt this is the intended effect. This new mutant culture (society, Magneto says) incarnates perfectly everything’s bad, and already deserves extinction MORE THAN EVER. But since when evolution favors morality or honesty? It might as well make sense. Let egoism, dishonesty and brutality prosper, as they always do.

(and the extent of cerebro’s powers would make the removal of the memories of traumatic death pretty trivial)

It’s the concept of “convenience” that annoys me. We now know that Sinister’s genetic database was part of a plan of two halves. Two halves justified by the classic, obsolete dualistic philosophy that wants mind and body separate. The matter and the soul. I wish we could move past these archaic discourses but I guess they can still be tolerable in a comic book. So we have the tangible matter of the body, through Sinister, the “husk”, and then we have Xavier’s cerebro machine, conveniently modified so that now it magically copies people’s souls. Hence proper resurrection is possible: a body is restored and a soul re-injected (some legitimate questions I’ve seen asked, for example about what happens to Wolverine’s adamantium).

I don’t know if this cerebro machine will be expanded later on, since this concept is what “fuels the future” as we’ve seen what follows is all about creating copies and creating machinic minds. But this cerebro in full power seems to already precede Cypher touching Krakoa, so it wasn’t something acquired.

The convenience permeates everything, only mildly justified. It’s for example convenient that Krakoa produces a powerful medicine, to then use as an offer that cannot be turned down by other nations, and make them directly dependent on Krakoa so that they will agree to recognize it as an independent nation.

And then there’s the big convenience of having a mutant that produces golden spheres, that are conveniently then transformed to eggs, that can then be conveniently infused with mutant DNA, then can then be accelerated in growth, and that can systematically be turned into an always successful process through the power of Hope (literally and metaphorically). All these “pieces” being very clearly arbitrary. It’s just one giant deus ex machina that works because Hickman decided that way.

I’m getting to it, Hickman essentially says the the moment Marvel hands over the whole mutantdom to him, then he can simply pick and choose at will what he needs. He has a basket of golden eggs, and can turn them into whatever he wants, just because that wide range of mutant powers is essentially boundless. It’s a deus ex machina served on a silver plate. In its external form because it’s Marvel giving Hickman the breadth of the mutant world, and in its internal form because Xavier unifies and builds that Mutant world so that he can pick and choose within it, just like Hickman. The god is in the machine.

I can appreciate a particular aspect of all this. Hickman doesn’t quite motivate the execution, since it’s all about hand waving, but he cares enough to give it some general “sense”. He does, fairly well, what other writers have done in the past, for example with Civil War (or Vertigo in the 90s). And that is making super-heroes a bit more “mature”, a bit less naive. It was all about injecting some more reality and awareness in that make-believe. Civil War was effective because it was sobering.

Hickman does something quite similar, because he recognizes that mutants are extremely powerful. This story, including all its silliness, is still perfectly coherent with the new picture that Civil War established. The concept is that if mutants are persecuted and hunted, disorganized and on the run, then their powers are “local”. They are arbitrary powers, more or less effective, but still without a direction.

But if you instead unify this “nation” then you obtain something else, because the diversity and range of these powers become a resource. Powers that can somewhat “synergize”, in the way we’ve seen in that resurrection process. So that a power that in its locality would appear as pointless, might instead become an important component within a larger process. And it’s also quite elegant because it goes along with this idea of not just a nation, but a living organism.

(No matter what they make them swear, one nation doesn’t exclude the possibilities of internal disagreements and factions. And it looks like that’s what’s going to happen with Sinister, unless that plot is left out of this introductory series. But still… Xavier’s “no more”, is about the mutant nation being divided. The paradigm shift is precisely about bringing in ALL resources. Including all sort of villains, up to Magneto, Sinister and Apocalypse. No one is left behind or out, quite literally.)

This unity becomes a worthwhile concept that earns them evolution. That will directly lead to that far future scene, at the presence of the Phalanx.

I can appreciate the significance of this concept, and how it’s coherent with the rest. While also thinking the execution is not that great, and it’s still a bunch of convenient deus ex machina rather than using established pieces. All the important pieces simply pop-up as necessary. Many of these are justified because Xavier is near-omniscient through Moira, but there are still giant blocks that have just appeared to make it work. Cerebro soul-backup powers, Krakoa and all its gifts.

Next week is back to Powers of X, so we’ll hopefully have a tiny extension of that Phalanx plot. I want to know what the endgame is.


…I was forgetting to add: Hickman digs a bit deeper through text. He explains that Xavier’s plan isn’t quite about resurrecting those mutants that go on a mission and might die. He’s actually trying to resurrect also the other SIXTEEN MILLIONS that died in the past. Even giving us a timetable of 300 years.

I mentioned how I’m annoyed by the “convenience”, and here’s another example. These five mutants that are necessary to the resurrection-machine might obviously have to work full time, given that SCALE of their endeavor, right? (one might wonder, what about automatizing it, huh? Convenience for convenience you have a near omnipotent machinic resource) That makes for some real heavy work. Those five having to completely sacrifice their personal lives as they are instrument (slaves) to an higher, morally elevated and unavoidable purpose… But Hickman thinks of everything. Conveniently. So he explains how the process of resurrection feels like an orgasm, and those five need only go through persistent bliss, that then makes them even more connected and inseparable. So it’s not heavy work, it’s pleasure.

Usually these kinds of rewards get encoded through thousands and thousands of years of evolution. I guess Xavier tampered with the mechanism.

I did skip a week but because I was busy at the time when I was supposed to write these updates, then I lost the moment and I didn’t have all that much to say either. Now I can’t even remember what I thought about that previous issue.

In general these last two haven’t offered a lot of meaningful material. It might be good, having a little more space to focus on the same group of characters instead of jumping all over the place, but the result isn’t convincing at all.

If House of X #4’s purpose is to amp up the drama then the only dramatic effect is its failure in doing so. After we jumped between timelines and different realities, and with the worsening effect of old characters behaving so oddly, it’s impossible to feel within the story and care about what is going on. In the great picture this is just a perfunctory scene within a larger process where worlds are destroyed and recreated. A casualty feels little more than a distraction, especially when it’s so rhetorically hollywoodean and bombastic. The only things that it leaves me are little nonsequiturs, like why is Mistique caught during an infiltrating operation without even a disguise? I guess there’s probably some banal explanation, but it feels like stuff just happens at random and it’s better to move on than ask questions.

Dialogues are getting worse and worse. We get didascalic character descriptions thrown in the worst possible situation and so gratuitous that they just move back and forth between the cringe and the fastidious.

Oh, and of course the cliffhanger of the previous issue was for the most part a fraud. Only a couple minor casualties for some unimportant background characters (husks). Wolverine regenerating a whole arm within seconds (uhm, how’s that “accelerated” healing?). I wonder what’s the point of doing arbitrary damage like that if it’s then gone in two panels, beside that bland shock value and the feeling of reaching and artificiality. But oh, it’s to justify the implausible scene that follows a few pages later, where Wolverine regenerates everything in real time while Nightcrawler gets obliterated in a millisecond. Then rhetoric and then more rhetoric, because Hollywood requires melodrama. You’ve seen this a million times already, usually executed a lot better.

The only two lines of dialogue that actually do make sense are spoken by a sentinel gone raving mad.

I guess the whole purpose is to convince the readers that the stakes were very high if Xavier decided that everyone in the squad was expendable. It’s a bit like the classic “show don’t tell” mantra. We see that Xavier is willing to pay the price, and so deduce the importance of it all, but it’s all still to be accepted without any question. The motivation given, about Nimrod’s origin, is anything but conclusive, so we simply watch Xavier making bold choices without any real access to the process leading to them. Mysterious Xavier can’t explain himself without giving everything away, so we’re all left hanging from unexplained explainers. And expected to be on board with those choices and consequences.

The more the intensity of the drama is ramped up, and failing, the greater the disconnection. It all falls flat and feels so fake. Why should anyone care about Wolverine’s death, when we’ll be jumping to a brand new version of himself in no (reader) time? In the flux of the transition the permanence of death has no hold, and on the reader as well. These fakedly dramatic deaths just wash away and leave no trace. Beside the cringe worthy rhetoric there was a whole lot of nothing.

Same for the following and current issue. The lengthy scene at the beginning is just one big question mark. It’s very random, very unfunny, and if anything it also helps to augment the disconnection between me reading and this meandering, pointless story. If Sinister is just random, Xavier and Magneto are worse than caricatures. The effect is like nails on a blackboard.

But who’s the brainwhashed mutant Sinister replaced? I wish I cared.

Follows a filler scene between Xavier and Cypher to fill an unnecessary gap about the discovery of Krakoa and the development of the language related to it. There’s one element that’s not filler, and it’s some piece of mythology that reveals Krakoa is also related to Apocalypse. It seems important, but it adds up to nothing else. So it’s another gaping hole with no current relevance. More promises of deliveries undelivered. Until these pieces remain unconnected, they are as good as blanks. They aren’t titillating mysteries to solve, they are just gratuitous hubris. The fact that they might eventually contribute to the shape of a puzzle doesn’t justify the hacked off nature of the delivery. A piece needs to be interesting on its own, THEN also connect meaningfully to something more. Instead we just get ineffective baits.

And finally the last scene delivers a micron of progress about the most current outward extremity of this puzzle. It follows the 4th issue. Some unnecessary exposition explains that the Phalanx entity can only absorb data and machinery, but this feels extremely dissonant since the whole concept was introduced through evolutionary ideas, the Phalanx entity described as “predatory”. Now it turns out it’s purposeless toward “organicity”? So is organic life a singularity in the universe, and machines the norm? …How? These are just bad ideas with poor foundations. Hickman just goes with the most pedestrian concepts of AI and machinic fears, ends up with the fundamentals gone all wrong. Might require one or more philosophy classes if one intends to tackle similar themes.

But in any case these future people made some computery copies of themselves in the hope that the Phalanx overlords will be lured to absorb those, and leave the actual organic sources untouched.

Of course.

They aren’t entirely sure the plan is going to work, which makes for another ineffective cliffhanger, not every day you try to trick an alien being with the power of a million of evolved minds, with one of the most idiotic ideas a single comic writer came up with during a night of drunken stupor. But beside this, wasn’t all this already implied in the premise? You can’t feed a computer to a cat. In fact a computer to a cat is so uninteresting that they just don’t register its existence. Out of taxonomy and language. Background noise.

That’s part 8 of 12 and it’s still all arbitrary and moving on top of an hidden course. If the last issue retroactively justifies the journey, and that’s already a lofty goal, it still wouldn’t have made it enjoyable.

The next issue is one of those marked “red”. I guess we’ll see, whatever there is to see.

“You aren’t going to die because you will be remembered.”

Yeah, that’s certainly reassuring. That’s the same of saying that you aren’t going to be poor because the true riches are of the soul. But that’s fine, Xavier looking and sounding ominous is the norm right now, and I suppose the intended effect by the writer (and the most ham-fisted version of foreshadowing).

Less convincing is this newfound mutant nationalism and all the rhetoric that comes with it. But it’s all superficial and followed by a brief mention of morals about killing civilians when there’s a greater cause at stake. Nothing is resolved here as well beside another quip about humans never being all that innocent to begin with. But since in this particular case they are discussing scientists and science, I’m not sure it’s reasonable to draw a line between humans and mutants on this theme. Are mutants equipped to use science more cautiously?

We get more boring taxonomy of the various types of machinic moulds, that have to be removed before they start spreading (this cleansing operation lead by Cyclops is what jumpstarts this issue). It goes a tiny bit more in detail, but the general sense is the same: Xavier and Moira built some kind of monitoring tool that warns them when the mould spreads to a dangerous level, so they can then send Cyclops and his squad of janitors to vacuum it.

You know, gray mould. Not even metaphoric:

That’s the part that follows from Powers of X #3: they found out that the primary problem is the spreading of a certain strain of mould that eventually leads to an hostile kind of Nimrod (the mother of all moulds), and they figured out that if they keep the house clean they won’t risk to be overwhelmed later on.

…And that’s all.

There’s probably some subtext present, or at least I don’t think the plot is so naive. On the explicit level what we see is Cyclops and his squad of janitors getting blown up because their opponent decides to act illogically, and so escaping the power of prediction implicit in a well made plan. But I have a feeling that Xavier is one step beyond that. Otherwise the discussion at the very beginning wouldn’t be motivated (no reason to doubt). Instead it sounds like both Xavier and Magneto knew that this was going to happen, and it’s just one move in a wider plan. But then we really don’t know what happens either. It’s just a typical cliffhanger that could be deconstructed in many ways. I just hope it’s something slightly more complex than having them all showing up unharmed in the next issue because of some trick, or previous plan, or whatever. I don’t think there’s enough space for those games, so maybe they really died in that silly way, for that clumsy motivation. We know Nimrod eventually gets made in that timeline.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The dialogues in this one are really terrible. But they’ve been terrible since the beginning, so this is nothing new.

This was mostly a perfunctory issue. We don’t jump all over the place this time, but the added focus doesn’t really add any meaningful depth or story. The sporadic “plot twists” in this one are very weak (like, Wolverine killing Moira doesn’t really have any emotional impact), and seeing characters acting out of character is now to be expected, if blandly acceptable/justified (like, Apocalypse “sacrificing” to send Wolverine over).

The purpose of this one was to complete one chunk of the chart about the lives of Moira shown at the end of House of X #2. As guessed, this missing piece didn’t have any further meaning than simply avoid spoilering what was going to happen in this issue. So at the end of this one we have that small update that goes up to the end of Moira #9. With the 6th still conspicuously missing, and maybe containing a bit more in the way of time travel shenanigans rather than simply withheld to be shown later.

At this point it is shown that these heroes are fully onto Moira’s game, just collecting data in order to use it fruitfully in some future reality, although I’m not sure about the philosophical appeal of Moira being the goddess and deus ex machina of what can or cannot be considered “a reality”, like the measure of a worthwhile future. The implications are much deeper, and Hickman is set to not use any of that, as we’ve seen both Xavier and Magneto jumping on board without any hesitation. No questions asked, no thoughts being moved.

The data on the data collected in the previous issue was about the location of the data on Nimrod’s origin whereabouts. The endgame should be really, really obvious at this point. Especially because Hickman plays dumb to the maximum degree, by consistently characterizing this evil mastermind of Nimrod as a total tool. The point being that Nimrod doesn’t know about Moira, so he doesn’t know about the potential of time traveling and use that origin data to dispose of Nimrod before it becomes a threat (and the AI can only compute as far as the data it has access to, what it cannot see it cannot see). This is like the most typical time travel plots (let’s go back and kill baby Hitler before he can do any harm), only made mildly more interesting because the mechanics of time travel here burn entire realities more than simply looping back to smooth out the kinks.

What’s nice here are the numerous nihilistic undertones that go with it. Actually they are overtones. Because this world/reality/timeline is burned. There’s nothing to save after collecting the data, so why not going all the way and trigger a singularity in the middle of it. It was going to be gone anyway, and of course they all know about it. They have in their hands one more layer of reality, it’s a gamechanger.

(and again, all goes in a blur, so all these radical sacrifices have the same impact of a mosquito being slapped)

…But.

It would be almost decent if I didn’t see EXACTLY this being done many times better in the TV series of Travelers, and now that I made the connection I cannot “unsee” it, and it’s ruining the few aspects I was appreciating.

It’s really a poorly delivered X-Men version of Travelers, and the comparison isn’t flattering for the X-Men. All that Hickman adds is noise, without seizing any of the meaning. I feel very stupid for not having made the connection much, much sooner.

Go watch Travelers.

It was expected that after the hype that preceded and accompanied the previous issue what was going to follow would lose some of that tension, like a valley after the peak. Even the side-series title, being “Powers”, seems to be focused on expanding the range, and observing the ripples of the major events or revelations that instead happen in “House.” So it was expected that this part would be a little blander.

Here’s what I think: this issue is really quite bad, actually, but it ends up serving on the plate more than I expected. It’s still bad, but it’s not an “empty serving”, waiting for the following weeks to re-up the stakes.

What’s bad follows the bad that was already there in all the previous issues. There’s no story moving, it’s all a vague concept slapped on the page, and we keep getting these poorly written cameos of characters that make the little story that might be there feel fragmented and pointless. Only it’s much worse this time. Nothing that is shown in this issue adds anything we didn’t know, or something that could be considered meaningful.

The first scene was probably mandatory, the “necessary” meeting between Xavier and Magneto, to show us how they ended up on the same side. But the motivation behind all this was shown already in the previous issue: it’s Moira’s jedi mind-trick. This time we only observe it being repeated (to Magneto instead of Xavier), and still looking very implausible despite the motivation holds (you know, you don’t usually trust someone who can manipulate your mind). I can only judge this in the perspective of all the confrontations between Xavier and Magneto I’ve read before, and this is just awful. The dialogue is surreal, and there’s zero substance to it. It’s worse than ever. But then it all also pivots around Moira’s trick, so it becomes a perfect example of the “show, don’t tell” rule. Nothing is being shown because everything is implicit in that mind-trick working its magic. Then, everything that instead surrounds that scene, all those interactions and dialogues, are some of the worst stuff I’ve ever read. It’s filled with non-sequitur and dramatic proclamations that are completely out of place (and out of character). Even if we’re given a motivation to explain why these characters now act differently, they just don’t act and speak in a way I can find plausible. It’s all surreal in the worst way, like the most artificial of stages.

What follows is less impactful so also less irritating. If the previous scene was necessary as it showed a crucial event, but superfluous as it added nothing to what we already knew, the next scene works more like a recap whose purpose is thematic, in the flow of the story here, but only becomes clear at the very end. Being this “Powers”, it looks like it follows the format of time jumps, so after that scene in year zero, we move to year ten, to tell us the X-Men are worried about the rise of the machines. No more no less than a mix of the first two parts of this story. This continues to be bad, as the most dramatic exchange is Xavier saying to Cyclops: “Listen to me Scott… … …They have to be stopped.” You really can feel the drama. Then Cyclops, who obviously doesn’t want to be any less cool, goes: “…Does it need doing?” Xavier: “Yes.” Cyclops: “Then it will be done.”

Wow… These dialogues are INTENSE. Or maybe not, they read like awful action movies scripts. Out of bounds rhetorical melodrama.

The next jump goes 100 years in the future, where a particularly ugly Wolverine and friends are still fiddling with the same USB drive they stole in Powers #1. The big revelation here is that… it contains data! Actually not the data they need, but data on the location of more data… that they might find useful to launch a suicide mission. And we find out that the eighth guy on the satellite that wasn’t revealed in Powers #1 is actually Apocalypse. Betting on the shock power of seeing a villain leading our heroes… that might even work if this trick hadn’t already been used in all previous issues as well. Now we just expect it, and still don’t find it any more credible.

But the big picture of this issue is that these scenes belonging to different “eras” actually align to show or suggest a trajectory. A theme. Year ten Xavier is worried about Nimrod being built, and year hundred Apocalypse launches an attack against a naughty (and frankly ridiculous) Nimrod again, suggesting that something might have gone wrong, or not entirely straight-forwardly, with Cyclops’ boisterous plan to neutralize Nimrod before it was made.

And this is where the issues gets interesting and moving a step away from the pointless acts of a rather bad and also plain story. You focus on Nimrod, but Nimrod is not the end. It’s the mean to the end. Moving to year 1.000, the game on the table is blown up, to give the sense that the petty human shenanigans that demand so much drama and monopolize passions, are nothing (or baby steps) in the much wider context. Realms. Exponential levels of reality. As in that scene in Man in Black where the two alien creatures play marbles with universes. The staggering, exhilarating sense of inconceivable inhuman scale.

The problem in all this is that the most important part is delivered through a text page at the end. What we have, again, isn’t a well told story, but a cool concept explained with an info-dump. It can be cool and it builds its own cute iconography, but it’s just another concept added to the pile. I can appreciate the intention of building something big and that does something interesting on multiple levels, but it all feels a rough sketch of ideas piling up and being assembled in rather haphazard way. It shows reach, but it doesn’t show competence (or wisdom, or depth).

The result is that Hickman wants to do a million of things, but clearly doesn’t have the time and space to do well any of them.

Those layers of reality are one of the concepts I really like, so I was positively surprised. But it’s certainly not enough, and not fair to applaud just because Hickman used it. That said, we are at comic-book type of bland simplification, so I cannot even really appreciate what is being done. It’s cool that we can imagine there’s more to existence than something anthropomorphic, but the “machinic” represents an outside, not a glorified inside. Hickman instead just aligns to the banality of “intelligence.” And there’s nothing revolutionary there. We’re still toying with human-made myths.

Mythological gods weren’t alien and external, they were just symbols of human passions. Sublimations. In the same way, these exponents of reality (Phalanx) that Hickman shows are just bigger eaters. That’s fine, but it’s not new, or meaningful.

Hickman keeps adding pieces to this new universe, that certainly isn’t the Marvel Universe. We’ll see if he ever manages to do something interesting with it. For now we are just being shown how it works.